Sitting Duncan a diss-service to fans

Posted: November 13, 2013

STEPHANIE AVERS was pumped up and ready. She had made the drive from Lancaster County to South Philadelphia to watch her favorite NBA team - the San Antonio Spurs.

Wearing a black jersey with the name and No. 20 of Spurs swingman Manu Ginobili, Avers was sitting directly behind the San Antonio bench in seats that range from $80 to $130 at the Wells Fargo Center before service fees.

It's become an annual ritual for Avers to come see the Spurs in Philadelphia to play the Sixers. She said it's the only Sixers game she attends

"I've been coming since the David Robinson days," she said. "Back then I would come to see 'The Admiral.' "

But last night, Avers was slightly disappointed when she arrived. About 2 hours before game time, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich announced that future Hall of Fame forward and four-time NBA champion Tim Duncan would not play.

Popovich didn't disguise anything. He said there was no injury. On the score sheet, the 37-year-old Duncan was listed as DND (Did Not Dress.) The reason listed was "rest."

The Spurs had played in New York on Sunday, and Popovich decided the second half of a back-to-back was a good time to give Duncan a night off.

And as far as Avers and the handful of other fans dressed in Spurs jerseys at the game, well sorry but those are the breaks.

"It does bother me," Avers said about Duncan not even being on the Spurs bench. "I wish he was here.

"But you know what? We're going to need him later on. It's early now. I'm all right with it as long as he's resting and getting healthy.

"I'm upset that I don't get to see him play, but I understand that we need him for the long haul. Absolutely, I'm taking one for the Spurs too. I can watch him play on television."

Avers was more understanding than I would be if I was a San Antonio fan and Duncan was a healthy scratch for the one game he'd play in Philadelphia.

I think what Popovich did was bullbleep.

I think sitting a healthy superstar player on the road for rest in the eighth game of the season is bad business for the league.

Even if Avers is OK with it because of her loyalty to the Spurs, it's disrespectful to her and fans like her who paid hard-earned money to see the best players in the world play.

It was bullbleep when Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra rested perennial All-Star guard Dwyane Wade for the Sixers' home opener - the Heat's second game of the season.

This is what I feared last November when Popovich sent Duncan, Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green home to rest rather than play them in a nationally televised game at Miami.

I said then that it was dangerous because this would become a strategy used by championship contending teams at the expense of lesser teams.

For struggling and rebuilding teams, which the 76ers are, one of the top selling points is the opportunity to see superstar players on other teams.

If franchises make the decision to sit those players during road games against teams they will likely beat anyway, it takes away a big reason some fans come out.

By the letter of the NBA law, Popovich did nothing wrong. Last year, the Spurs organization was fined $250,000 for sitting the players against Miami.

But that was only because Popovich violated league rules by not informing the Heat and the league office in advance. He told everyone he was required to tell last night.

Still, that doesn't make it right.

Fans understand that they are not guaranteed to see superstars because there could be an injury or extenuating circumstance.

Protection against fatigue in the eighth game is not a legitimate excuse.

Intentionally denying ticket-buying fans the right to see a healthy superstar play is borderline consumer fraud.

It may be sound coaching logic, but it is bad for business.

The Sixers only had 12,424 fans at last night's game but they were entitled to the best product the teams could put on the court.

San Antonio intentionally violated that implied promise just as Miami did by resting Wade.

Sixer fans who don't think this is big a deal should realize that for the near future, the home team is one of the have-nots in the Association.

So maybe tomorrow, the Houston Rockets will rest Dwight Howard or James Harden for their only trip to Philadelphia because the second half of a back-to-back is Thursday in New York.

Maybe Oklahoma City will rest Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook when the Thunder makes its lone trip to Philadelphia or the Los Angeles Clippers won't play Chris Paul and/or Blake Griffin.

This could become a regular pattern in South Philadelphia as the Sixers rebuild over the next few years.

Stephanie Avers came from Lancaster County to see her favorite team play in Philadelphia, and for no legitimate reason, Duncan wasn't there.

The Spurs easily won, 109-85, so she went home happy. She probably doesn't think that in reality she got ripped off.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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